Tired Of Your Entrenched Service Provider? Consider A Local Alternative

Few consumers realize they can ditch their monopolistic service providers in favor of local, independent telecoms that often offer similar services at competitive rates. These smaller outfits depend on service, not size, as reader Sharpstick recently discovered:

In the Charleston SC area we are fortunate to have local a internet / phone / cable provider called Knology that has made customer service an art form.

Over the last few weeks I have been reconfiguring my home network and have contacted their customer support several times to change my settings, each time I was greeted by a competent employee who handled my request with ease. I finally settled on using an Apple AirPort Extreme and placed one final call to set it all up.

Now, because I am a lifelong Mac user I expected to hear “What is a Mac?” or “We don’t support Apple products.” Instead the customer service rep said it wasn’t a problem and even shared some geeked out fact about the router that I didn’t know. He made the changes needed to the account, I didn’t even have to touch my keyboard or mouse. At the end of the call he offered to have a technician follow up with a call in an hour to make sure it was working. One hour later the technician called while I was happily surfing the web over my new wireless connection.

An amusing postscript to this story. Right after I had finished setting up the connection, an AT&T salesman comes to my door and I was able to give him an ear full of what I thought of his illegal wiretapping company. It was like icing on the cake. : )

Local providers aren’t always able to provide the same bundles as entrenched providers, but what they lack in services, they make up for in excellent customer service.

In New York, customers tired of Time Warner, Verizon, and Cablevision can look to independent DSL providers like Bway.net. Frustrated residents of other cities can use DSLReports.com to track down their own local alternatives.

Local (Mom & Pop) ISPs [Broadband Reports]
(Photo: dailyinvention)

Comments

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  1. matt says:

    Unfortunately for those of us who need their internet fast, the local places (at least where I live) can only offer mediocre DSL service (1MB down, negligible up).

    Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to switch to support the little guy, but I see my ISP as a sort of “Wal Mart”, where it has exactly what I need, in the quantity that I need it, at a price I am alright with.

  2. @matt: agreed. plus the local folks are just re-selling a fraction of the pipe from the big guys.

  3. hypnotik_jello says:

    I hear speakeasy is pretty good. Granted they’re now owned by BB but apparently they still provide decent service and customer support (this is from friends who have the service). I personally haven’t used them since 2005 though. I’m currently on rock solid 1.5Mbps/384kbps from RCN (for $23/mo no less).

  4. sleepydumbdude says:

    I have local. My speeds are crap but I get free starz. Plus I have all three, dvdr, + free starz and pay less than 100 each month after taxes. I had Time Warner for a month when I got my bill that was supposed to be 100 and it was 125 because random fees and taxes. Now I get more channels but crappy internet.

  5. calvinneal says:

    This is not news where I live. Competition has been fierce in the midwest for 10 years. As far as the wiretapping part,that is at the internet backbone of both ATT and Verizon. Since the Internet backbone is owned almost exclusively by these 2 gigantic companies, do not delude yourself. Your stuff is being packet sniffed. This spying is not done by the local Verizon or ATT operating companies. The backbone carries everyones traffic, cable companies, MOM & Pop providers etc, Earthlink, British Telecom, Bell Canada et all. The government went to the top of the food chain, that way they get damn near everything!

  6. FLConsumer says:

    @pepe the king prawn: The re-selling part is why I’ve stayed away from the local yokels. It’s bad enough trying to get Verizon to repair their own DSL service let alone adding a 3rd party in the mix.

  7. Dsmith171 says:

    We’ve got a decent set-up here in some parts of SC where a local provider bought out Charter locally and their infrastructure. Download/upload speeds are great. And the customer service has been excellent. Point being, not all of the locals are always re-sellers.

    Despite what your girlfriend may tell you, often times smaller is better.

  8. JonathanB says:

    This may be true for big cities, but in rural areas you’re lucky if you even have one broadband option available.

    Even when I live (Madison, WI) my only choices are AT&T DLS, or the Charter (the only cable TV provider in the area). The is no local broadband provider in my neighborhood.

    We seriously need legislation that will promote more telecomm competition.

  9. Jorel says:

    not everyone is a reseller. i work for a large, independent ISP and we do resell DSL and also do our own DSL service where we have our own equipment in the CO. we can go out 30,000ft+ (unlike ATT who only lets you do 17,000 ft) and we can get customers up to 12+MB speeds. we’re competitively priced, our customer service is local and empowered and we answer 70% of calls is under 40 seconds. our CLEC status allows us to get unbundled loops with load coils and bridge taps removed to get those kinds of speeds and distances. local alternatives are worth looking into just remember to do your research.

  10. freshyill says:

    Where my parents live, there’s *only* local options, and they have two companies to choose from. It’s nice, and they have a great phone/100% digital cable/internet bundle, for something like $100/month. I have to say though, the TV picture quality kind of sucks, and the internet is only about as fast as the shitty Verizon DSL I’m stuck with. Still though, they’re making improvements and I’m sure things will get better in time.

  11. C00lbeans says:

    I have knology here in Mongtomery AL too…along with Charter so guess who got my business? Charter was cheaper but the internet and hidef quality (uptime for internet and picture for TV) was pretty crappy.

    One thing I notice though was that the local customer service are idiots, but that is because I live in a city where 85% of the locals are actual idiots. Anytime I call to a non local customer service rep I get someone that speaks english, not southern slang.

  12. “an AT&T salesman comes to my door and I was able to give him an ear full of what I thought of his illegal wiretapping company.”

    OK, this is a lesson I learned a long time ago – the guy at your door doesn’t actually own AT&T so tearing him a new one really doesn’t do much good.

    These are tough times and most of us work for companies because, well, that’s the job we got. While it’s nice to aspire being able to say “No, I REFUSE to take your job because you eat babies/whales/baby-whales/whatever!!” we have to have a little common-sense.

    The guy at your door probably didn’t love his job but, as you know, morals don’t pay the rent or put food on the table. And I doubt, after the venting was over, he thought “Gee, you’re right. I’ll quit right this second.”

    This is why I’m always polite but firm with sales calls – “No, I’m very sorry but I’m not interested in a new VISA/MC/AMEX card. Good-bye.” The schmuck on the other end of the phone is working a nasty job for dirt pay and if he/she could get a better job, they’d do it in a heartbeat.

  13. bohemian says:

    Knology recently bought our smaller regional provider (Prairiewave). Since Knology bought it everything has become worse not better. We can no longer buy services off a menu. You can only buy bundles and of course none of the bundles are created in any fashion to match what people actually commonly use. They also jacked the price of broadband through the roof and push people to packages as a “better deal”. They also slapped on a $20 a month increase to every package.

    Service wasn’t great before they were bought out and it sure hasn’t gotten any better under Knology. We now get more BS when you have an issue or want to change something. So Knology is not some small local company. They are a big national company that is buying up small local ISP/Cable providers.

    They are still tons better than Comcast or Charter,but is that really saying much?

  14. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Here in Houston we have an excellent ISP called Oplink.net. We’ve used them for three years and they have been consistently trouble-free, they communicate well, and they are generous when they do need to fix something. They offer only broadband service, but that’s fine with us… we don’t bother with cable TV (whoneedzit) and we own our cell phones free and clear (we use prepaid, which works out better for us). Their prices are reasonable and I’m not locked into a contract. Their latency is often the lowest obtainable. The only thing I’d change about them is that they only have a couple guys on tech support, and at night the “24-hour” line pages them. But that’s not a huge problem because I need them only once in a blue moon.

  15. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Jim (The Canuck One): The reason we vent to the person at the door (register, etc.) is because they are the representative of the company. There is a difference between “some random guy” and “some random guy from Comcast.”

    That said, the “little” guy we complain to may not obviously be in charge, but he does talk to his co-workers and his family and friends. If your service is bad, probably a lot of people’s service is too. That adds up to a lot of dissatisfied customers complaining. That adds up to a lot of service people who hate their jobs and gripe because their company doesn’t care. That adds up to a lot of expensive turnover and reputation damage. That adds up to damage to the bottom line.

  16. Boberto says:

    Time Warner is my only option. Verizon is too far away. My only hope for the future is a Wimax service. But that may never happen now that Sprint has pulled out.
    Maybe I could move to China for better options.

  17. nuton2wheels says:

    I encountered a similar situation as a student at VA Tech a few years ago. Fortunately, a large provider enabled me to get away from the monopolistic practices, lack of competency, and horrible customer service of a small regional ISP called NTC. I don’t know if this practice is prevalent in other parts of the country, but most apartments in my college town were run by large management companies who contracted with one provider for cable, internet, and phone service. I know this was also the case at Radford, UVA, and JMU. And who better to con? College kids are known to be low on time, money, and knowledge of how the world really works, so they’re the least likely to revolt. Building owners received $ for the exclusive deal and didn’t have to worry about existing wiring and technical issues since they basically leased it to the provider and no changes could be made without the latter’s consent.

    There were a lot of stipulations for tenants that guaranteed the provider profit regardless of how badly they performed. These traps included the dreaded early termination fee (of $100), mandatory one year contracts, higher rates than the regional cable company (even though the services were contracted from them), and a clause prohibiting the use of routers (even for the purpose of firewalling) lest the student would have their account terminated, owe the early termination fee, and be reported to their school’s honor system for STEALING. If your roommate(s) wanted service for themselves, they would have to pay $35/mo extra to have the Ethernet port in their room(s) activated, even though it was the same bandwidth! I think a lot of students who weren’t technologically savvy got scared and paid the additional $35/mo, and there were cases of NTC technicians throwing kids under the bus when they happened upon anything resembling a router while performing a service call (especially if the tenants weren’t home).

    The worst part of all was the service. It became painfully apparent that the network administrators were either incompetent or indifferent, as evidenced by service outages for multiple days, the blockage of all ICMP requests (you couldn’t gauge your relative latency, they claimed it was for network security), blockage of IRC at several known ports due to some virus that caught them unprepared, TV reception issues, network seizures, and persistent slowness. If you got past the long wait and voice prompt affirming their downtime, you’d be told by a CSR that the service was “not for work purposes.” I even wrote a TCP/IP utility that logged connection latencies to various websites at random intervals, should the need for evidence arise.

    I did some research before my senior year and found out that it’s illegal for an apartment to constrain your choice of telephone providers (but not cable or internet, hmm…). I contacted Verizon and had them check the lines and found we were candidates for DSL, but had to have an active landline. The setup and installation process was painless, even though we didn’t have an actual phone number (it was some weird number within the provider’s network). Our bill for the landline and DSL service came out to only being about $45 or $50 in the end, we ran a router the entire time, and never had a serious outage lasting more than a few hours. Thankfully, corporate providers aren’t stupid enough to hire a bunch of cornfed Joe Bob types to maintain their networks, and when they work, everything’s good. When things go wrong, you can always hassle the big cable companies into making concessions, since they don’t want their “reputations” to be tarnished.

  18. Osi says:

    We had a local phone company called, GCI here in town. The other was PTI Alaska, now called ACS. Well, GCI did the same as the company in this article. Until they got big, then they started hating the customer with a passion …

    In short, now there are no small mom & pop companies in this town, only two huge anti-customer businesses ….

    Good for you, for having a choice … in this town, we have none.

  19. mr.Man says:

    @nuton2wheels: Care to expand on your story a little more with some footnotes? Jesus Christ…

    Ultra-indulgence at it’s finest.

  20. elocanth says:

    If you’re in Texas, try checking out Grande Communications. They tend to treat customers better all around than Time Warner and the like. The only problem with their network is that it isn’t nearly as widespread as Time Warner. If they’re in your area, though, give them a shot.

  21. TuxRug says:

    I tried local, back when I had dial-up. They were honestly surprised when putting in my number as the dial-up number got a busy signal. (Um, I’m pretty sure YOUR number goes here.) Then they asked if this was a second-hand computer (it was) and if we knew the previous owner (my aunt). So they had us try my AUNT’s number.

  22. gnubian says:

    Currently, my choices are limited to Comcast (current provider) or Qwest for DSL service (max 1.5mbit) .. There is a fiber initiative here called UTOPIA which the city I live in decided wasn’t woth getting involved with .. That may be changing. If it does, for $50/mo ($20 less than Comcast), I will be able to get a 50mbit connection with 500GB monthly traffic. Better that that, the ISP is a local company, not a crazy megacorp …

  23. nuton2wheels says:

    @mr.Man: I wanted to give people an idea of how bad things can be :)

  24. AstroPig7 says:

    @hypnotik_jello: I used Speakeasy for several years, and if I could do so again, I would dump Time Warner in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Speakeasy can‛t run to my apartment. Their customer service was excellent (they didn‛t care that I was running Linux, and they even preferred it), and their downtime was almost nonexistent.

  25. HazelStone says:

    What we are tired of is our power company. They buy fuel to burn to make our electricity…then pass the cost directly on to us. So a $120 utility bill becomes a $240 utility bill due to the $120 fuel charge tacked on. How do we beat this bullsh*t situtation, I ask you?

  26. goodkitty says:

    We had a small independent ISP once. The good part was that it was fast, reasonably priced, and had many tiers of service. The people responsible for it were also friendly and lived in the neighborhood.

    The bad? Well, service went up and down like a yoyo. When the power went out, so did your service, until someone from the company went to restart their equipment. Though you knew the people who worked at the provider, good luck getting through for emergencies and outages outside of regular working hours, even on their cell phones.

    Another time, using one of those intermediary companies for DSL (I don’t recall which), was even worse. When there was an outage or the DSL connection ‘broke’, it was like playing tag to get someone to confess responsibility and get it fixed. And it cost an insane amount as well since you were paying ISP charges on top of the regular phone bill+phone company charges.

    Generally, while big companies like Comcrap rake you over the coals for everything you have, they do have a pretty good service level (when it isn’t being blocked) once it’s installed and working properly, in my experience.

  27. Xerloq says:

    @gnubian: UTOPIA would be great… At one point UTOPIA was offering 150 Mbps (both ways) for $39 – it was the fastest internet in the country. Because of that Comcast charges me $19.95 for the 12 Mbps connection. Of course, UTOPIA will probably go bankrupt if they can’t up their user base. They also require a 1-year contract, and make you pay $100 for installation and you have to rent all the FIOS equipment. Beware the ETFs, too.

  28. In New York, customers tired of Time Warner, Verizon, and Cablevision can look to independent DSL providers like Bway.net. Frustrated residents of other cities can use DSLReports.com to track down their own local alternatives.

    In other news, those of us here in Pikesville (Baltimore County) have no alternatives to Comcast. Period (Dish does not count).

  29. gnubian says:

    @xerloq: as per the xmission website, $54 install fee, no contract $50/mo .. I’m in Sandy. I know Xmission serves the valley, but depending on your location, they may not be able to provide for you.

    I was, to say the least, extremely offended when Sandy opted out of UTOPIA .. especially when the mayo had just gone off about how much sandy neded a viable data network to be able to attract new business into the area (at that point, I had 2 options for internet access .. dial up or 802.11b through Sisna)

    Quoted from the Xmission site -

    Residential Customers

    Up to 50 Mbps for $50 per month!
    One time installation $54.
    Residential UTOPIA package includes 500 GB of data transfer per month. Additional high volume data accounts are available at extremely competitive prices. Call XMission Sales for details.

  30. RandoX says:

    What’s with that picture?

  31. wimpkins says:

    @Jorel: How do you get those speeds at 30,000 ft?

    Fiber?

  32. superdewa says:

    I live in a rural area and have only one choice for DSL. They’re a local monopoly, and I hate giving them my money.

  33. angryrider says:

    $15 is $15 in the NYC area. Some people can’t really afford the higher speeds at higher prices.
    I’m not THAT willing to pay $80 per month for internet access.

  34. CornwallBlank says:

    @Papa Midnight: It might be worth your time to see if DataPoint can provide you with DSL.

  35. @CornwallBlank: I’ll look into that, although I seriously doubt it. I can’t even get Verizon DSL here.

  36. Jorel says:

    @wimpkins: sorry if that was phrased incorrectly. those speeds can’t be reached at 30,000 ft but we can go out that far and still actually get people DSL service. you have to be closer to the CO than that to get 12+MB service. we used specialized equipment (at the CO and at the home) and dry loops with load coils and bridge taps removed.

  37. Xerloq says:

    @gnubian: I didn’t know xmission was on the UTOPIA. I thought it was just MSTAR and Verite (or whatever their name is).